First things first. If you’re going to construct an entire TV series around characters being ridiculously cute, they damn well better be really, really cute. And Denpa Onna to Seishin Otoko got that right.
You better have a high tolerance for moe if you’re going to watch this show, because it’s awfully cute. It beats you senseless with kawaii, starting with the OP and ending with the ED and nary taking a break in-between. Relentless is not a strong enough word for the dedication to moe we have here. Now normally, I have a pretty low tolerance for moe, so why don’t I hate this? Mostly because of the character designs, I think. Originally by Buriki, they’re absolutely gorgeous – some of the best you’ll ever see. There’s other things I like about this show as well, but let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first.
As I said a few episodes back, although I thought there was a bit of drama inherent in the situations the show had built up – especially around Erio and Maekawa – I’d pretty much given up on seeing any of it come to fruition. It’s just impossible to take a show seriously that absolutely refuses to take itself seriously, even a little bit. I really wanted Shinbou and SHAFT to take their foot off the gas, just once in a while, and give the pathos a chance to live. But they never did, right up to the finale. Good or ill Shinbou stuck to his guns and kept things as trivial as humanly possible, content to give us a barrage of cuteness and self-deflating humor in lieu of any real character development. Therefore, I really shouldn’t have been surprised that the finale was a complete non-event, as trifling as the rest of the series has been.
That’s one reason why I loved Maekawa-san as much as I did. Denpa Onna is a completely one-dimensional show. While there’s no denying they did that dimension well, it did grow tiresome sometimes. Other than occasional flashes from Makoto, Maekawa was the only character that shows multiple facets – she was actually complex. Yes, she was cute. When she was pretending not to be going after Makoto, good Lord, she was adorable. She was silly – she spent half her time dressed as a dugong or “Alien”. But through relative new seiyuu Mai Fuchigami Maekawa was the one person who brought some actual subtext to the proceedings. She didn’t say exactly what she meant. She looked askance at the weirdness of the world around her and seemed to be in on the joke. She flashed through her sides – insecure, vulnerable, cynical, caring – in a subtle way. And there was nothing and no one else about this show that was remotely subtle.
Makoto was a pretty good lead, especially in the first half. Irinu Miyu got as much out of the character as anyone could, but even he crumbled under the lack of weight in the end. His development never really went anywhere – his false crisis over not participating in soccer games as a 10 year-old felt artificial. And what was certainly the most important relationship in the series – Makoto and Erio – was largely abandoned in the second half. They interacted, but not much changed once Erio left the house and took the part-time job. I understand the attraction – both for SHAFT and the viewer – is in the non-linear and rambling nature of this story. But lack of development is lack of development by any name.
The rest of the characters are a mixed bag. They were certainly all beautiful and cute apart from Yashiro, but most of them were best in small doses. Ryuushi was your classic genki girl and never took off much beyond that. Meme was certainly memorable – one of the most brazenly inappropriate MILFs you’ll see in anime. But I grew tired of her by the end as she, too, didn’t really grow much. Yashiro felt completely vestigial from the minute she stepped onto the screen – Erio’s less attractive, less funny, less relevant shadow.
And one other thing, as mentioned in the finale review. Even for such a self-limiting series as this one was, there sure seem to be an awful lot of questions left unanswered. Is Yashiro actually an alien – or at least an esper? We’ve seen her apparently do two things that defy the laws of physics. What of Elliot, Erio’s father – is he alive? Why did he leave? Obviously, what happens with Makoto’s love life? Is it Ryuushi, the most obvious choice? Does he go with the bold one, and choose Maekawa? Is there something beyond familial affection between he and Erio, or was all that teasing for nothing? It just seems like interest in all the big questions petered out and the show ended with a kind of “squip”. To be fair, we do have a DVD bonus episode coming that may correct some of this.
For all that, I can’t deny that this was an enjoyable show to shut your brain off and bathe in most weeks. No one has done moe any better for a long, long time. Shinbou kept enough of a lid on his tics and tricks to let the charms of the source material show through much of the time. Maekawa was a revelation – one of the very best characters of the year in any show. And the general look of the series was quite beautiful, even if the animation budget obviously dipped in the second half.
Lastly a word about the ED, “Ruru” by Etsuko Yakushimaru. Damn, it’s good – one of the very best of year. That vocal, the toy pianos, the animation… It’s a terrific little song and it really suits Erio and the material perfectly.